UK Book Launch
It’s still a couple of months until my book will be published in the UK (July 17th), but Biteback have decided on this beautiful design for the cover of the UK edition and the lovely people at the British Humanist Association have organised an event to launch the book with A.C. Grayling, Samira Ahmed, Robin Ince and Adam Rutherford all kindly giving up their time to speak.
The launch event will take place at Conway Hall in London on 10th July and is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased here.
Good luck Alom – sorry I can’t make the launch..
A lot of us in England were brought up respecting the law and having to go to church and Sunday school and when performing our military service as I did, starting in 1938, on Sundays were labelled C of E or Roman Candles. Failure on either count committed you to the cookhouse to peel spuds. And spud bashing is a powerful religious persuader. This lip service continues throughout life and in many ceremonies such as masonic rituals is perpetuated through practice rather than conviction. Some of us are able to ‘see the light’ at an early age and many a time I have perambulated round the Rose Croix temple wondering what in the world all this mumbo jumbo has to do with the real world with its discovery of neutrinos and now, the dear leader’s particle.
We question. We don’t know. We progress and become agnostic; then atheist and eventually real―as a humanist.
Problems arise when you have to combine reality with religious mythology. One of my students this year completed the research for his PhD by investigating the adoption of the Islamic Work Ethic (IWE) by the 3,000+ government employees of one of the Arab countries.
Any structured work ethic is a fine model for developing job satisfaction and organizational commitment (as well as State control) and I suspect that xWE would produce similar results to IWE. An utterly indoctrinated Muslim, he was disappointed to find that a proportion of the younger government employees were not as committed to the IWE as they should be. I pruned his tortured thesis of as much unnecessary religious comment as possible and he saw the moral value of my advice not to exclude the adverse responses. However, he had to defend his dissertation at a panel of European professors, not one of Islamic persuasion, but he was awarded his doctorate.
It was not my university and, frankly, I think the panel was wrong. To test the efficacy of a work ethic, xWE, the correct research procedure is to search for organizations that had adopted the xWE but whose employees had little job satisfaction and no organizational commitment and to search for those that did not embrace the xWE but whose employees reported high job satisfaction and showed considerable organizational commitment. Only if one failed repeatedly to find either, would the arguments relating the claimed attributes to success be valid. The candidate went straight for the good old confirmation-bias and looked chiefly for evidence that supported his initial assumptions about the IWE.
The embarrassing situation for me is that he has accepted my quite scathing criticisms and has recommended me to other Islamic PhD candidates. Is there no justice?
This debate and life experience is difficult for me to imagine as I was brought up an atheist by committed socialist parents. For me religion was merely a quaint anachronistic gig with some rather lovely elements (music and architecture) and a depressing history!
As a student at Oxford University I was drawn to Ethics in my Philosophy course and have now come to the conclusion that there is much that is sound in ‘religions’ – Jesus said ‘Love is God’ (in effect) and I have a suspicion that he was actually trying to wean people off the deity business and give them a simple guiding principle. He was clearly a fan of the KISS approach and always recognised that it was the terrible dimness and immorality of many ‘men’ that presented his great challenge (hence all the drawing in the sand!) And of course there have been others like him in many lands and throughout history (and Rowan Williams is of this school I suspect).
Not having the guilt or hangups about defecting from a ‘religion’ and being educated as a thinker I continue to observe and ponder the swirl of contemporary human existence and the path we are on and I find that it is the practical (utilitarian?) aspects that have come to concern me most. What is the point of being ‘right’ if no-one actually acts this way? When making moral decisions we cannot know the outcomes and have to use our best informed guess and do a risk assessmenr! Above all we need to act – like Alom to ‘put our heads above the parapet’ – if we are to have any chance of improving the human lot in this world of ours.
The issue of death has never bothered me for some reason and I think its hold on modern people is lessened as our lives have improved and lengthened. Sherwin B Nuland’s inspired book ‘How We Die’ should be required reading – and he was brought up by first generation immigrant Jewish parents and made the journey to humanism like Alom.
As a historian I believe that we are today witnessing the death throes of organised religion and that for many the ‘void of purpose’ will need to be filled with an alternative – hence I have ordered Alom’s book on Amazon and look forward to sharing it with my teenagers!